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Religion and Society

Ghana, if Islam Becomes an Enigma

Last update: 2018-06-11 17:16:52

 

The arrival and the spread of Islam in Ghana followed several and different pathways. Islam came to Northern Ghana by three routes: from the North and North-West at the hands of Mande (Dyula) Muslim traders, and from the North-East at the hands of Hausa and Borno traders. In Southern Ghana, the arrival of Islam followed the collapse of the Bono and the Begho states, and its increase was encouraged by the fact that the slave trade became more lucrative and competitive during the nineteenth century and because the colonial government enlisted people from the various northern predominantly Muslim communities into the colonial army. At the present time many of the Muslim communities, converts and ethnic Muslims of both Ghanaian and foreign origin, live in cities, towns and villages, mostly, but not always, in zongos (1). In their relationship with non-Muslims, Muslims in Ghana tend to display one of two tendencies: tolerance or reformist separatism. The Ahmadiyya movement is a group apart. Today we have the following groups of Muslims in Ghana: Sunnite Islam (Orthodox Islam); the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam (Qadianis); Alhus-Sunna wal-Jamaa`at (a puritanical brand of Islam sponsored by Saudi Arabia to promote Wahhabism in Ghana); the Imamia Muslim Mission (a Shiite group supported financially by Iran, Pakistan, India and Muslims in England); the Nation of Islam (only in Accra); the Tijaniyya sect in Tamale, Kumasi and Accra; and the Qadiriyya sect. In the census of 1960, the Muslim population in Ghana was put at about 12% of the population of Ghana. By 1970 the Muslim population had declined to 11%. This was in part due to the deportation of a large of number of Muslims of Nigerian origin from Ghana as a result of the passing of the Aliens’ Compliance Law of 1969. According to the 1984 statistics, Ghana was about 60% Christian, 18% Muslim and 22% Traditionalist. Catholics represented about 18% of the population, and the various mainline Protestant denominations also reached 18%. Independent and Pentecostal churches represented 24% of the population. This growth in the Muslim population reflected an upsurge of openness to the religion, especially in the urban centres. In addition, many Sahelian Muslims had migrated to Ghana to escape the harsh conditions of their homeland. Since independence, Muslims have continued to contribute greatly to the socio-economic and political life and development of Ghana. Since the 1970s they have shown great openness to, and an appreciation of, non-Islamic education. The establishment of several English/Arabic schools has greatly facilitated this development. The Ahmadiyya Muslim mission is the most open to formal education and the Ghana Education Service recognises both the Islamic and the Ahmadiyya Education Units. For the past twenty years we have seen Muslims playing an active role in politics. Not only are they increasingly involved in sponsoring political activities, they have also succeeded in having the government establish a Hajj Commission for them and sponsor pilgrimages to Mecca. They have obtained government recognition for, and declaration of, two Islamic feasts as statutory national holidays (Eid-Ul-Fitr and Eid- Ul-Adha). The high point, to date, of Muslim participation in politics was the choice of Muslim running mates by the two major political parties in Ghana in the 2000 and 2004 elections, and the actual nomination by the current President of one of them as Vice-President. The Missionary Dimension Another observable feature of Islam in Ghana is its awareness of the international or universal dimension of Islam. Muslims have always been open to the Islamic world through annual pilgrimages, contacts with Islamic countries, Islamic organisations and foundations, and scholarships to Islamic countries. Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Egypt and Libya vie with each other to support Muslims in Ghana through the establishment of cultural centres, the building of mosques, and other development projects. Correspondingly, the Muslims in Ghana are very conscious of their missionary call (Da`wa). They carry out this duty through personal witness, personal contacts, preaching, and marriage. The targets of their missionary activities are believers of the traditional religions and Christians. Some of the converts to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement were Christians of one sort or the other. Christian girls do marry Muslims. For Muslims, marriage is a religious duty and a means of conversion and of increasing the Muslim population. It is also a means of salvation. The non-Muslim girl who marries a Muslim has moved from darkness to the light. To summarise: Islam is a visible and an audible religion in Ghana. Everywhere there are mosques (in villages, towns, schools, markets, hospitals, work places), amplifying the call to prayer. We have Islamic schools, Islamic clinics, Islamic dress, Islamic cultural centres, Islamic TV programmes, Islamic newspapers, Islamic NGOs, Islamic banks and an Islamic university. Hence, when the last census (2000) ascribed 18% of the population to Islam, it was contested. The Muslims thought they were more than that. Tolerance and mutual respect are the keys to living harmoniously in a multi-religious society such as Ghana; and it is dialogue which makes this possible. The primary aim of Christian–Muslim dialogue is to gain a better understanding of each other, to do away with prejudices and stereotypes, and to cultivate harmonious relations and the peaceful coexistence of people of different faiths in Ghana. For years, Ghanaians have lived in multi-religious communities. Christians, animists and Muslims have lived together for centuries as members of the same clan and household. Accordingly, the peaceful coexistence of people of different religious traditions in the family, tribe, and in the nation is usually taken for granted. This regrettably is no longer the case. In the past few years, the situation has changed noticeably, as the following observations indicate. In 1994 there was intra-Muslim conflict between Sunnite Muslims and Alhus-Sunna in Wa which led to the burning down of an Alhus-Sunna mosque. The old tensions between the Ahmadi and the Sunnite Muslims in parts of Ghana persist. Animosities between the Tijanis and Wahhabis are not uncommon. In 1995 there was an outbreak of violence between the Wahhabi-influenced Alhus-Sunna and the more conventional Tijani Sunnites in the Wenchi zongo. In 1998 there were serious confrontations between Muslims and some Pentecostal Christians in Kumasi, Takoradi and Walewale. All these events led to the destruction of property. There have been incessant calls on the government to introduce Arabic into the curriculum of the first and second cycle schools. Whereas Muslims demand recognition for Islamic practices in non-Muslim institutions, they fail to do the same for Christians in Islamic institutions. Sometimes intolerance takes the form of verbal castigation and condemnation. These intra-Muslim tensions and those between Christians and Muslims show that the long-lasting cordial relations between Muslims and Christians can no longer be taken for granted. There is also the danger of external influence, which can undermine peaceful co-existence between religious groups in Ghana. In 1989 an Islamic Conference took place in Abuja, Nigeria, attended by African-Muslim scholars and activists. At the end of the conference, the participants resolved ‘to encourage the teaching of Arabic... as the lingua franca of the continent’ and ‘to struggle to reinstate the application of the shari’a. At that conference the participants diagnosed Africa’s ills as being caused by Christian Imperialism. The panacea, prescribed by the Abuja conference, accordingly, was the adoption of Arab-Islam. After the 1989 Abuja conference, the ‘Islam-in-Africa Organisation’ was set up; and the preamble to its charter speaks of the congress’s participants ‘being determined to sustain the momentum of global Islamic resurgence and further encourage co-operation, understanding and brotherhood of the Ummah with the view of facing the common enemies – the imperialist and Zionist forces of domination and secularization, illiteracy, poverty and degradation – and to rediscover and reinstate Africa’s glorious Islamic past’. The ‘glorious Islamic past’ refers to the jihad movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a result of this, Ghanaians, as indeed all Africans, need to discern the emergence on the horizon of a new face (a new presentation) of Islam which is very unlike what they have been used to and which appears to be not just a religion but a ‘revolutionary ideology and programme which seeks to alter the social order and rebuild it in conformity with its own tenets and ideals’. Without going into details, one may also observe that the factions and divergent positions within the religious movement in Ghana are also worrisome. The reformist attitude of some Muslims can impede dialogue. We have the conservative group championed by the elders who want to maintain the status quo or who want things to change gradually (e.g. the Jami`ah Limam (2) of an Islamic community in the north-western corner of Ghana is an advocate of this trend). There is also the reformist group of the Alhus-Sunnah which wants radical changes and the purification of Islam of all traditional elements. This group wants to import the Saudi Arabian type of Islam into Ghana. Some of their members have either studied in Saudi Arabia or have been on pilgrimages to Mecca and came back with the ‘true Islam’. A Season of Dialogue The Catholic Bishops of Ghana have embraced inter-religious dialogue as a pastoral priority. With the Christian Council of Ghana, the bishops collaborate with Muslims groups to address social issues, such as HIV/AIDS, bribery and corruption, injustice, indiscipline, and to ensure free and fair elections. Another group, the Ghana Conference of Religions for Peace (GCRP), brings together the heads of Christian and Islamic religious groups to explore the use of the power of religion to foster and consolidate peace and development in the country. The Christian Council of Ghana has a programme called PROCMURA (Project for Christian–Muslim Relations in Africa). This programme educates pastors on Islam and on how to minister among Muslims. In the Northern Tamale Ecclesiastical Province of the Catholic Church there is the Tamale Ecclesiastical Provincial Pastoral Conference and Inter-religious Dialogue Commission (TEPPCON IRDC). The aim of this commission is to motivate the promotion of inter-religious dialogue in the dioceses. Very many other dioceses have Christian–Muslim dialogue groups. Some of these dialogue groups are composed mainly of Christians who seek interaction with Muslims, others have developed into commissions which have Muslims and Christians as members and which meet frequently to plan dialogue programmes that promote good relations between Muslims, Christians and Traditional Believers and prevent religious violence or conflict. A more common form of inter-religious dialogue in Ghana is the dialogue of life and action. Faced generally with common environmental and development challenges, it is common to see members of communities come together, in the diversity and multiplicity of their faiths and confessions, to undertake common and mutually beneficial projects and even to celebrate certain social and cultural events (e.g. marriages, funerals and naming ceremonies). Certain self-help associations also draw certain classes of people with different religions together. The Christian Mothers’ Association and the Widows’ Association have Muslim women as members. The Association of Christian Women married to Muslims is very strong in the upper western part of the country. The aim of this association is to support Christian women to maintain their Christian faith in an Islamic environment, to maintain good relations between their husbands’ families and their paternal families, and to advise young Christian girls who want to marry Muslims. There are a number of factors that militate against sincere Christian-Muslim dialogue in Ghana. Some Christians and Muslims are neither prepared nor equipped for dialogue. Some Christians and Muslims believe that inter-religious dialogue is at best useless and at worst dangerous. The first attitude grows out of a sense of the superiority of one’s religion. The second attitude, that dialogue is dangerous, arises from fear – the fear of conversion. Engaging in inter-religious dialogue with hidden agendas badly compromises the conduct of dialogue and often torpedoes any chance of success. Intra-Muslim tensions in some areas badly affect the success of dialogue. It is hard to bring Ahmadi and Sunni Muslims together to dialogue with Christians. Indeed, whereas dialogue programmes that involve Christians and Ahmadis alone or Christians and Sunnis alone tend to, when it involves both groups usually one or the other group will abstain. In addition, the preaching of some Imams and pastors (in mosques/churches, through the radio) against other believers hinders positive dialogue. In the situation in Ghana of religious pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect, rooted and nurished by dialogue, can foster and assure the absence of religious conflicts and peace. As a highly placed prelate of the Catholic Church once said, ‘it’s better to speak than to fight’, and speaking should be to the other rather than about the other.

 

 


 

(1) Term used in Ghana to mean slums (2) Local Imam.

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